Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Adverse Conversing?

The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that 
the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. 
        ~Bertrand Russell*, Unpopular Essays 

I'm certainly not stupid and don't want to appear cocksure, but I do not want to be seen as intelligent yet cocksure, either. What do I want? Insightful, informed and convivial conversation. I implore you, go right ahead, talk to me. 

After reading the above Bertrand Russell quote I couldn't help but remember all the times friends have said when I opine about something (and I opine a lot!) they automatically believe me because I sound so sure of myself. I'm trying to figure out how to change that perception because often I'm not "so sure of myself." I'm thinking out loud. I want feedback and the opinions of others. I don't simply "want" that, I hunger for it. 

It's easy to forget that the type of conversational interaction I learned "at my father's knee" may not be conducive to easy, back and forth communication.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Substance of Memories

A recent "Ask Marilyn" column featured a question about whether or not a person who had traumatic or painful memories could be hypnotized to forget those memories. vos Savant (nee Mach) wrote that this would not be possible because "memories are chemical, meaning they have substance." 

She said a person who was susceptible to hypnotism could "... respond to the suggestion to 'forget' certain events... but this action simply prevents them from being able to recall all the episodes. The memory itself still exists in their brains, and so does the aftermath and the many relevant associations... The result is that the people still feel bad but cannot recall why."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Call of the Wild ... Words

Life has a way of sneaking up on us, sneaking past us, snaking its way through the years in ways both familiar and alien. Familiar because we can look back and pinpoint times when the longings felt the same and yet time reformed their meaning and circumstances rerouted the hoped-for conclusions. Alien because the decades spent putting dreams aside almost obliterated and made foreign the unrivaled joy to be found in doing that one thing one was born to do.

I have been fascinated by words since the age of three and, from the moment I learned to read, have been delighted by the written word. However, no halls of higher learning beckoned me to explore possibilities or hone skills in the writing or journalism arena. Once in a while over the years a submitted essay, article or poem of mine would be accepted for publication in the local paper or a quarterly literary magazine. Writing courses fulfilled a need to practice my often solitary craft with like-minded people.

Two years ago an acquaintance hired me to format and edit her book of prose. In vastly different ways, that endeavor was a delightful learning experience for both of us. During that time I also edited and assisted in research for a

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Post: Compost

               File:Mixed Apples for Cider Pressing.jpg
            I'm queen of my own compost heap & 
          I'm getting used to the smell.
         Ani DeFranco

One amazingly bright and sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-October, my son, his family and I attended Portland Nursery’s annual Apple Tasting Festival. Hundreds of folks were milling about; some biting into caramel apples, some dipping into dishes of apple pie and ice cream, and what seemed like hundreds standing in four long lines waiting to taste the 60 different types of apples being diced and put out for sampling.

Lively country music wafted across hay bales and over the several acres of nursery grounds, spurring some to sway and dance to the tunes. After tasting every one of the apple samples, we drifted over to the area where the cider press was pumping out free samples of delicious, fresh apple cider.The fellow manning the press raised his voice over the chattering crowd to announce, “Free bags of apple pulp for anyone who wants it. Makes a great addition to your compost pile,” as he motioned to the stack of five-gallon bags of pulp. Did my son want any? No. Did I? Yes! Why? Well… I have big ideas for a new vegetable garden and probably unattainable plans for extensive flower beds around the home I moved into about a year ago. I’ll take all the free cuttings and plant starts I’m offered and … I’ll take anything at all that I think will beneficially amend the heavy, clay soil on the property.

That’s the reason 10 gallons of apple pulp were graciously toted (by my son and his 11-year old son) from the nursery, to the car, to two beds in back of my house.I didn’t intend that the pulp would sit out there for two weeks, attracting 10-million fruit flies and who knows how many raccoons and possums!? But, it did. It sat there. It rotted and molded and … sat. 

Last Saturday, another blue-sky day, my son and his oldest son, 16, spread a yard of hemlock bark on the side yard (stepping stones to be added). Feeling a bit sheepish at all the work they were doing for me, I decided to do a bit of dead-heading of faded flowers.Clippers in hand, I made my merry way around the back yard. 

Looking deep into a large flower bed, I noticed a perennial plant that desperately needed some tending. I stepped off the grass and into the bed. Oopsie! I slipped and fell with a hard bump on my butt! What did I slip on?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dear Mortals

Over a quarter of a century ago a good friend told me he felt quite certain the world would one day have a war over water. I didn't disagree with him, yet certainly had no idea just how prescient he was. 

Sunday evening, November 16, 2014, 60 Minutes aired a segment on depletion of our water and the possibility of actual worldwide "water wars." If you didn't see this, please take time to view the video or read the script. 
As I watched the program outlining the dire predictions and all-too-possible outcome of our flagrant misuse of this natural resource, I thought of a comment by Rachel Carson,
whose groundbreaking book, Silent Spring came out over 50 years ago: "In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water, along with other resources, has become the victim of his indifference." 

This article, "Global Climate Change - Vital Signs of the Planet," reminded me of Nick Drake's poem: 

The future says, 

"Dear mortals;
I know you are busy with your colourful lives;
I have no wish to waste the little time that remains
On arguments and heated debates;
But before I can appear
Please, close your eyes, sit still
And listen carefully
To what I am about to say;
I haven't happened yet, but I will.
I can't pretend it's going to be
Business as usual.
Things are going to change.
I'm going to be unrecognisable.
Please, don't open your eyes, not yet.
I'm not trying to frighten you.
All I ask is that you think of me
Not as a wish or a nightmare, but as a story
You have to tell yourselves -
Not with an ending
In which everyone lives happily ever after,
Or a B-movie apocalypse,
But maybe starting with the line
'To be continued...'
And see what happens next.
Remember this; I am not
Written in stone
But in time - 
So please don't shrug and say
What can we do?
It's too late, etc, etc, etc.
Dear mortals,
You are such strange creatures
With your greed and your kindness,
And your hearts like broken toys;
You carry fear with you everywhere
Like a tiny god
In its box of shadows.
You love festivals and music
And good food.
You lie to yourselves
Because you're afraid of the dark.
But the truth is: you are in my hands
And I am in yours.
We are in this together,
Face to face and eye to eye;
We're made for each other.
Now those of you who are still here;
Open your eyes and tell me what you see.” 


Fleeting Feelings-Memorable Moments

Love nourishes both today and all the moments of our tomorrows
~Deleta Avalon

[First published over two years ago. I'm moving it up the "blog ladder" because 81 years ago today, November 17, 1933 is when my parents married. They nourished each other with mutual love and respect for over 61 years, and nourished my brother and me from our births to their deaths. Dad died in 1994 and Mom died in 1998. I miss them both, every single day.]

There are times when my mother’s presence is so physically felt I am overcome with joy—then overwhelmed with sadness when I come out of reverie, back to the reality of a physical world in which she is no longer a part.

Shopping at a local grocery store two months ago, I reached into a refrigerated case for a carton of orange juice. A small, much older woman in front of me began to reach for a carton at the same time. She hesitated then drew her hand back. Her white hair, the slight hesitation, her body shape and size, were exactly those of my mother.

We were standing within six inches of each other. I had such a need, such a powerful and present need to put my arms around that woman, or at least touch her shoulder, give her a smile. Yet, I didn’t do that—I wish I had. Instead, with tears welling in my eyes, I moved away and continued shopping. I felt certain the woman would have accepted my touch and I hoped an opportunity such as that presented itself again—vowing I would not hold back.

However, almost the same situation arose last week and I did not touch this older woman either, nor did I speak to her. My eyes grew moist when she looked up at me, smiled and apologized for being in my way (of course, she wasn't).

Friday, November 14, 2014

My Dad's Dinner Table

All great change begins at the dinner table
~ Ronald Reagan

Every day my mother lovingly and carefully prepared three healthful and substantial meals for my father, my younger brother and me. Reading a post from September 21, 2010 on “Our Dinner Table," Delight in Losing Arguments, bounced me way back in time—decades back, in fact—to my family’s dinner table and something that usually occurred at each evening meal. 

This nightly “event” was my father’s seemingly unquenchable need to bring up some subject he knew would elicit groans and comments from my brother and me. “Daaaaad, that can’t be true.” “Who said?” “Where’d you read it?”

My recollection is that these “conversations” began when I was 11 or 12 years old and became a regular ritual at the dinner table. With no preamble, Dad would make some pronouncement to my younger brother and me which sounded blatantly outrageous.
Out-of-the-blue comments such as “…there’s a new sewing machine that darns socks,” or “…when you’re washing windows, use old newspapers to dry and polish them,” and “always use cold water to wash milk out of a glass” or he might come out with, define and spell, some silly sounding word we had never heard of. When his declaration ended, he would look down and resume eating his dinner.
Of course everyone knows socks have to be mended with something inside of them (Mom used an old light bulb), so how could a machine do that? Naturally, when he said to use old newspapers to polish the windows, we both felt our father just wanted to save money and recycle, (a term not even used in those days, but we understood “reuse”).  We certainly knew he was simply being a hot-water-electricity-saving-cheapskate when he instructed us to use cold water to wash out a milk glass.
In every instance, my brother and I felt as though he was daring us to prove him wrong. We could not help ourselves—we countered him with disbelieving comments and flew to the nearby Collier’s encyclopedias or the dictionary in an attempt to invalidate what our father had said.

Even though loud arguments often ensued, this uproar and dissension over the spelling of words, understanding of philosophies, and interpretation of concepts or feasibility of inventions, never deteriorated into personal insults. 

Mom stayed on the sidelines as the contentiousness went on and we settled the question or, simply tired of arguing.  Only then did we continue our dinner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Seasonal Reflection

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, 
summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. 
~Stanley Horowitz

The calendar tells us we are nearing the end of autumn, the third season of the year. That fall feeling still lingers in the air. Yellow, amber and red leaves flutter to the ground. It's cold and clear, yet blue skies are often partially occluded by varied tufts and wisps of gray clouds, harbingers of winter-to-come.  

How very easy it is to slip back in memory to a brisk, clear-skied autumn day in 1995. 

After driving my 80-year old mother through some particularly lovely areas of our town; after hearing her joyous comments about all the beauty we were seeing as we drove past old homes and established flower gardens; after a leisurely lunch, she was ready for an afternoon nap. 

As I began to turn the corner into her neighborhood, Mom looked to the right, commenting on an ancient bigleaf maple tree whose plate-sized leaves, now crisp and brittle and piled over a foot high, filled the entire area underneath the tree. 

Her voice came in a whispered rush: "Oh, how I wish I could scuffle in those leaves!" Hmmmm...the tree lived in a public park six feet away from the curb outlining the parking area. Her 4-wheeled walker lay in the trunk, ready for action. 

Turning the car around, I eased the tires over the slight curb and up to the edge of those enticing leaves. Gripping the handles of her walker, a childlike look of delight on her face, Mom slid her feet along and scuffled through the leaves. 

Those few moments were just about the best moments of the day

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face.
~John Donne

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thinking about: How it might have been

The rules I chose to break; the instructions I should have followed; the higher education I could have pursued; the job I didn’t accept; the man I might have married; the life-style changes I could have made; the money I should have saved; the wiser parenting I should have done—periodically all these thoughts, and many more of the same ilk, wend through my mind. However, in each instance and at the time, I chose to do what seemed right.

It’s easy to think “it” might have been so much better if only life had given us a break (or a hint!) now and then or if only we’d known how “it” would eventually turn out.

Of course, that’s entirely a case of ruminating over personal choices in the past and often thinking the outcomes would have been oh, so much better, happier, easier, nicer, more comfortable if we’d chosen a different path.

Admittedly, the majority of these thoughts of mine are egocentric and selfish. In truth, I have no reason to believe my own life would have been any better had I made different choices; it might have been vastly disappointing.   

I’ve been thinking of three sets of friends who (and this is fact) have each lost a child within the past year. For the most part, these adult children exuded creativity, enthusiasm for life and love of family as well as intellectual and physical stamina.  

Grieving family and friends have every reason to harbor thoughts of “it might have been,” and “if only….” I certainly don’t consider these thoughts selfish or self-centered (in the way I view my own).

I imagine loved ones dwelling on potentials never met, roads never traveled and their own arms ever-aching for a hug, if only…

For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, 'It might have been'
~John Greenleaf Whittier

In the case of my friends and their losses, the words, “it might have been” are truly sad, anguished and haunting.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pleonasm Prevention Society

I have made this letter a rather long one, only because
I didn't have the leisure to make it shorter.
~Blaise Pascal-1623-1662
French mathematician, physicist and philosopher

Totidem verbis, this post inaugurates the Pleonasm Prevention Society. The organization is open to all the redundant speakers out there; those of you who tend to use far too many words when writing or speaking.

If you are a reader who has been the recipient of any one of my wordy e-mails, you understand why I have signed on as the first member of this society.

Membership in the Pleonasm Prevention Society will be granted when you acknowledge your prolix ways and determine to pare your verbosity. It’s possible I will be the only member of PPS. It’s also possible I’ll never be able to live up to its stated membership criteria.

Of the many friends with whom I communicate via e-mail, there are only three or four who even come close to matching the length of my notes. Not surprisingly, those three (or four) all tell me they enjoy my extensive blathering, and I certainly savor reading the mail they send.

Lately I’ve been practicing a bit of verbal apery. Meaning, I attempt to truncate my written responses so that they more closely match any short, staccato notes received.

A few of the one or two line e-mails I’ve been receiving come from those who previously wrote much longer communications. It finally dawned on me: these are friends who are now using their smartphones—typing away on that minuscule keyboard, FYI-ing, OMG-ing, BTW-ing and LOL-ing, seldom do I receive TMI.